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THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 1 

PROBABLY in no period of history is the temptation to 
exaggerate the importance of dramatic events by a false 
isolation so great as in the early years of the French Revolu- 
tion. This tendency renders the reconstruction or reinterpre- 
tation of the history of this epoch especially necessary. Until 
Professor H. Morse Stephens published his excellent book, 
the English-reading public had relied pretty exclusively upon 
Carlyle's picture of events. Carlyle's account, notwithstand- 
ing its poetic brilliancy, is in one sense quite conventional. 
With all his broadmindedness, he makes little effort to re-state 
events in new relations or from any other than the traditional 
standpoint. The Tennis Court oath is to him, as to most 
other historians, a picturesque incident associated with a court 
intrigue. No attempt has been made, as far as I am aware, 
to assign to this event its proper place in the great and irre- 
sistible current of advance. It is, after all, but recently that 
writers of history have recognized as their chief task the pains- 
taking investigation of the often obscure causal relations of 
events — the tracing of gradual and inevitable development 
where phenomena have previously been treated only as spas- 
modic and erratic. It is with this in view that I shall try to 
sketch out the history of the Tennis Court oath of June 20, 
1789, by which the deputies of the French people bound 
themselves to give France a constitution, and shall attempt 
to show that the incident was not the unpremeditated out- 
come of an invasion of carpenters, "hammering, sawing and 
operative screeching," but that the events of June 20 consti- 
tuted in reality only a slight although politically important 
advance beyond the state of affairs on June 19. 

During the months of May and June a momentous constitu- 

1 This paper is based upon one prepared for the meeting of the American His- 
torical Association, December, 1894. 



THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 46 1 

tional change had been taking place in France. The old 
feudal assembly of the three orders, reassembled after an 
interval of one hundred and seventy-five years, was found, in 
spite of the studiously antiquated dress of its members, to 
have undergone a significant change since last it met. No 
royal edict could re-create the spirit of earlier centuries. The 
inevitable metamorphosis into a modern representative body 
took place during the succeeding weeks, notwithstanding the 
opposition of the conservative elements. It was finally de- 
cided by the court to suspend the sessions of the three orders, 
and this, as appeared to the third estate, with disrespectful if 
not suspicious abruptness. The pretext for the prorogation 
was that, as the king was to address the estates a day or 
two later, the spacious general meeting-place of the orders, 
which the representatives of the third estate had utilized since 
May 5, must be prepared for the royal session. 

On finding the place of assembly occupied by the carpen- 
ters, the representatives of the third estate gathered in the 
Tennis Court of Versailles and adopted the following resolu- 
tion: 

The National Assembly, regarding itself as called upon to estab- 
lish the constitution of the kingdom, effect a regeneration of the 
state (I'ordre public) and maintain the true principles of monarchy, 
may not be prevented from continuing its deliberations in whatever 
place it may be forced to take up its sittings. Maintaining further, 
that wherever its members are assembled, there is the National 
Assembly, the assembly decrees that all its members shall imme- 
diately take a solemn oath never to separate and to come together 
wherever circumstances may dictate until the constitution of the 
kingdom shall be established and placed upon a firm foundation. 1 

The importance of this resolution lies in the fact that it was 
the first distinct and formal assertion of the assembly's 
mission. A resolution had been passed three days before 
(June 1 7) by which the deputies of the third estate had as- 
sumed the title of " National Assembly." The deputies had, 
moreover, taken an oath upon this same seventeenth of June 

1 Histoire Parlementaire, vol. ii, p. 3. 



462 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

very like the Tennis Court oath itself : " We swear and pledge 
ourselves to fulfill with zeal and fidelity the duties which 
devolve upon us." "This oath," we are told, "taken by six 
hundred members, surrounded by four thousand spectators (the 
public having gathered in crowds at this session), excited the 
greatest emotion, and constituted a most imposing specta- 
cle." 1 Apparently all that is novel in the Tennis Court 
oath is the clear enunciation that the establishment of the 
constitution is the essential task of the assembly. 

No adequate account appears to have been given of the de- 
velopment of this idea of a constitution. That it was not new 
on the morning of June 20, 1 789, is obvious. The unanimous 
recognition on the part of the deputies that the true object of 
the assembly was the establishment of a constitution, is quite 
sufficient to prove that the public mind was ripe for this dec- 
laration. It is my purpose to indicate in a brief and general 
way the steps by which the French nation attained to a clear 
conviction that the salvation of the country depended upon the 
distinct formulation of the principles of government — a con- 
viction which received its first official announcement in the 
Tennis Court oath. 

The motives advanced by the king and ministers for convok- 
ing the Estates General had been but vaguely conceived and 
therefore but vaguely indicated in the Letter of Summons, 
January 24, 1789. 2 "We have," the document relates, "need 
of the counsel of our faithful subjects to aid us in overcoming 
all the difficulties in which we are involved respecting the 
state of our finances, and to establish according to our wishes 
a constant and invariable order in the various parts of the 
government which affect the happiness of our subjects and 
the prosperity of our kingdom." The phrase "fixed and con- 
stant order in all parts of the administration " occurs three 
times in this brief document as one of the great objects 
which the Estates General in conjunction with the king 
are expected to accomplish. Necker's report to the king, 

1 Histoire Parlementaire, vol. i, p. 471. 

2 Archives Partem entaires, vol. i, pp. 543, 544. 



No. 3-] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 463 

issued a month previous to the actual summoning of the 
estates, although claiming to reflect the inmost purposes of 
the monarch, really does little to define the vague terms used 
in the letter of convocation itself. Necker says nothing of a 
constitution, but seems to take for granted that the Estates 
General are to be regularly and periodically convened in the 
future; while the worst abuses are to be done away with and 
the administration improved. 1 No farther program was fur- 
nished by the government until the king submitted an elabo- 
rate and interesting plan of reform in thirty-five articles 2 at 
the royal session, three days after the Tennis Court oath. 

The ideas of reform vaguely advanced by the government 
had taken a much more definite shape, however, in the minds 
of the leading spirits in the nation at large, and had developed 
into the matured conception of constitution some time before 
the assembling of the Estates General. A remarkable forecast 
of the ideas which later became the basis of constitutional 
revolution is to be found in the remontrances of the parlements 
issued from time to time during the eighteenth century. These 
superior courts of France had formulated the theory of a con- 
stitution long before the revolution, and had, moreover, taken 
great pains to familiarize the public with the idea. 3 

Considering the inherently close connection between the 
legislative and the judicial functions of government, it is not 
strange that a proud and self-conscious body like the parlement 
of Paris should have been inclined to define its duties broadly 
and extend its influence so as to exercise a certain control 
over the formation of the law. This tendency was rendered 

1 Archives Parlementaires, vol. i, pp. 489 ff., especially pp. 496-7. 

2 Histoire Parlementaire, vol. ii, pp. i6ff. 

8 The study of this interesting but neglected phase of the constitutional his- 
tory of France will be greatly facilitated by the publication of the " Remontrances 
du Parlement de Paris au XVIIIe Siecle," which are being excellently edited by 
M. Jules Flammermont in the great series of Documents Inedits. The first vol- 
ume only of this collection has appeared (1888), covering the period 1715-1753. 
The editor furnishes a valuable introduction, in which the position and preten- 
sions of the court are carefully discussed. For the later period of the parlements' 
existence the present writer has, through the courtesy of the librarian, been 
enabled to utilize a number of contemporaneous editions of the Remontrances 
preserved in the White Library of Cornell University. 



464 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

almost inevitable by a custom which had long existed of per- 
mitting the courts to protest against, and demand a reconsid- 
eration of, kingly edicts when presented to them for registra- 
tion. This anomalous right of participation in legislation 
was stoutly defended by the parlement, the arguments advanced 
being based not only upon precedent, but upon justice and 
expediency as well. The attempts of the king and his minis- 
ters to force the court to register edicts against its will pro- 
duced serious crises. On these occasions the despotic character 
of the French monarchy and the problem of the exact nature 
of the legislative act 1 were brought prominently before the 
nation. 

In order to support their contingent opposition to the wishes 
of the king, whom they recognized freely enough as the su- 
preme law-giver, the courts put forward the theory of a con- 
stitution. They assume the guardianship of the " lots funda- 
mentales " of the monarchy. It devolves upon them, they claim, 
to maintain the constitution of the kingdom and to see that 
no fundamental maxims are violated. This constitution was 
perhaps ill-defined, and was comprised in no accepted written 
code ; nevertheless, the courts very properly pointed out that 
it was only by continuing to observe certain venerable usages 
that France could be said to enjoy a regular legal government 
at all. As they once bluntly told Louis XV : " Adulation 
itself would not dare to assert that in every case anything 
that the king wills becomes forthwith a law of the monarchy." 2 
The parlements appear to have been conscious, however, that 
their claims rested at best upon a somewhat precarious founda- 
tion. They never venture to give a complete or even extended 
enumeration of the "fundamental laws " of the monarchy. For 
the vagueness of their pretensions they seek to compensate by 
solemn reiteration. 3 

1 " La solemnite sacramentelle de la legislation francoise," as it is called by the 
Parlement of Paris, Remontrances of June 18, 1763, p. 14. 

2 Remontrance of Pari, of Brittany, July, 1771. 

8 " Le Parlement sent bien la fragilite des droits qu'il reclame et il deguise la 
faiblesse de ses pretentions sous des affirmations vagues qu'il developpe dans un 
langage solennel." Flammermont, op. cit, I, xxxi. 



No. 3.] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 465 

Notwithstanding the obvious want of definiteness in the 
theories of the parlements, there is much in the widely circu- 
lated remontrances, beginning with that of May, 1716, which 
could not but leave a deep impression upon a public that was 
becoming more and more conscious of the abuses and dangers 
of absolutism. The successive conflicts between the superior 
courts and the king's ministers, important as they were in cul- 
tivating a spirit of general discontent, cannot be considered 
here. 1 We must confine ourselves to the stimulus given by 
the parlements to the growing demands in the eighteenth cen- 
tury for a limitation of the king's powers. 

The following statement of the parlement' 's case, made some 
seventy years before the Tennis Court oath, contains a sum- 
mary of the claims which are separately developed at greater 
length in the various manifestoes of that body: 

While we recognize, Sire, that you alone are lord and master and 
the sole lawgiver, and that there are laws which varying times, the 
needs of your people, the maintenance of order and the administra- 
tion of your kingdom may oblige you to change, substituting new 
ones according to the forms always observed in this state, we never- 
theless believe it to be our duty to call to your attention the exist- 
ence of laws as old as the monarchy, which are permanent and 
invariable, the guardianship of which was committed to you along 
with the crown itself. ... It is by reason of the permanence of 
such laws that we have you as lord and master. It is this perma- 
nence which leads us to hope that the crown, having rested upon 
your head during a long, just and glorious reign, will pass to your 
posterity for all time to come. 

In recent times [the parlement adds] it has been clearly shown 
how much France owes to the maintenance of these original laws of 
the state, and how important it is in the service of your Majesty 
that your parlement, which is responsible to you and to the nation 
for their exact observation, should assiduously guard against any 
attack upon them. 2 

1 The significance of these struggles is excellently explained by Rocquain in 
his admirable work, Esprit Revolutionnaire avant la Revolution. 

2 Iteratives Remontrances sur la Refonte des Monnaies, July 26, 17 18. Flam- 
mermont's collection, pp. 88 ff ., especially pp. 94, 95. 



466 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

Even Louis XIV, the parlement claims, regarded that body as 
"the real guardian of the fundamental laws of the kingdom, 
and even the most absolute of the kings had accepted the reg- 
istration by the parlement as a necessary condition for the 
enactment of a law." x 

The superior tribunals, especially the parlement of Paris, 
are thus placed upon the same footing as the monarch himself. 
They both exist in virtue of the same fundamental or constitu- 
tional laws. Thus, "la constitution la plus essentielle et la 
plus sacree de la monarchic," 2 as conceived by the magistrates, 
provided not only for a king with "fortunate inabilities," 3 but 
for tribunals which had a right to cooperate in legislation. 4 
Both owed their existence to the same imprescriptible law by 
which the kings themselves were kings. 6 

The so-called " Grandes Remontrances" of 1753 discuss at 
length the relation of the will of the sovereign to the law of 

1 IteVatives Remontrances sur la Refonte des Monnaies, pp. 95, 96. 

2 Remontrance of June 18, 1763, p. 16. 

8 " Bienheureuse impuissance," a constantly recurring quotation from the 
" Droits de la Reine sur divers fitats de la Monarchie de l'Espagne," supposed to 
have been inspired by Louis XIV. 

* " Que toute administration dans l'e'tat est fondee sur des Loix, et qu'il n'en 
est aucune sans un enregistrement libre, precede de verification et d'examen, que 
cette verification est necessaire pour donner a toutes les Loix ce caractere d'authen- 
ticite, auquel les peuples reconnoissent l'autorite qui doit les conduire," etc. Ex- 
trait des registres du Parlement, January 2, 1760, p. 13. See also Remontrance 
of June 18, 1763, passim. 

6 The Parlement asserts, in a remontrance of June 18, 1763: "Que de mSme 
que le souverain est l'auteur et le protecteur des Loix, de meme les Loix sont la 
base et les garants de l'autorite du Souverain ; et que toute atteinte portee aux 
Loix retombe plus ou moins directement sur le Souverain lui-m6me. Que mecon- 
noitre l'existence ou la force irrefragable de Loix immuables par leur nature, 
constitutives de l'economie de l'etat, ce seroit ebranler la solidite du Trone meme. 
Que suivant les expressions du Premier President de son Parlement, parlant a 
l'un des augustes Predecesseurs dudit Seigneur Roi, 'les Loix de l'etat et du 
Royaume ne peuvent 6tres violees sans revoquer en doubt la Puissance mSme et 
la Souverainete dudit Seigneur Roi. Que nous avons deux sortes de loix ; les 
unes sont les Ordonnances des Rois, qui se peuvent changer selon la diversite 
des tems et des affaires ; les autres sont les Ordonnances du Royaume, qui sont 
inviolables, et par lesquelles ledit Seigneur Roi est monte au Tr&ne royal, et cette 
Couronne a ete conservee par ses predecesseurs jusqu'a lui.'" This last quota- 
tion the court derived from a speech made by Harlai before the king, June 1 5, 
1586. 



No. 3.] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 467 

the land. The subjection of the kingly will to law is clearly 
set forth, and the theory is supported by a variety of some- 
what startling quotations culled from the political literature 
of Louis XIV's reign. 1 This remonstrance of 1753, dealing 
with the refusal of the sacraments, closes the long struggle 
growing out of the bull Unigenitus. The succeeding conflicts 
between parlement and ministry turn on other matters. The 
popularity-loving magistrates, susceptible to the spirit of the 
times, learn to give a democratic or at least popular tone to 
their declarations. The terms nation, people and citoyen occur 
more and more frequently in the expostulations with the king. 
We can easily perceive the growing antagonism of the nation 
towards an unlimited or ill defined royal power. The clearest 
and most mature statement of the theory of a constitution 
which I have found occurs in an obscure remonstrance ad- 
dressed to the king by the parlement of Brittany, dated July, 
1771: 

There is an essential difference between the transitory regulations 
which vary with the times, and the fundamental laws upon which the 
constitution of the monarchy rests. In respect to the former [that 
is, the transitory regulations], it is the duty of the courts to influence 
and enlighten the ruling power (I'autorite), although their opinions 
must, in the last instance, yield to the decisions of your wisdom, 
since it appertains to you alone to regulate everything relating to 
the administration. To administer the state is not, however, to 
change its constitution. ... It is, therefore, most indispensable to 
distinguish or to except the cases where the right of expostulation 
suffices to enlighten the ruling power in an administration which, 
in spite of its wide scope, still has its limits, and those cases where 
the happy inability [of the monarch] to overstep the bounds estab- 
lished by the constitution implies the power necessary legally to 
oppose what an arbitrary will cannot and may not do. 

While this is obviously an ex parte argument with a view to 
justifying the pretensions of the courts, it is a remarkable 
approximation to the later ideas of a constitution as distin- 
guished from current statutory legislation. Not only was the 
word constitution familiar to the thoughtful Frenchman many 

1 Flammermont, I, 521 ff. 



468 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

years before the Revolution, but the idea which underlies the 
modern conception of a constitutional government was ready 
at hand. 

That the superior courts represented the nation since the 
disappearance of the Estates General, was perhaps the basis of 
the claim which the parlement ventured to make upon the sym- 
pathy of the public. 1 It was the parlement of Paris which, 
July 1 6, 1787, requested that the Estates General be again 
convoked, " considerant que la Nation representee par les etats- 
gdn^raux est seule en droit d'octroyer au Roi les subsides n6ces- 
saires." 2 This demand, passed by a strange coalition of 
radicals and conservatives who held opposite views of the 
meaning of their action, was the beginning of the end. After 
a brief period of popularity the parlements disappear forever, 
with a last dignified protest in which they sadly lament the 
outcome of a movement which they had themselves so materi- 
ally hastened. 3 

There is a natural temptation to attribute to our own insti- 
tutions a very considerable influence upon the growth of the 
idea of a constitution in France. Apparently the earliest col- 
lection of our state constitutions ever made was destined for 
French readers. 4 These documents attracted the attention of 
thoughtful Frenchmen, and we have the comments of Turgot, 5 
Mably, 6 and, later, the extensive work of Jefferson's friend, 

1 " Ce peuple avoit autrefois la consolation de presenter ses doleances aux 
Rois vos predecesseurs ; mais depuis un siecle et un demi les etats n'ont point 
ete convoques. Jusqu'a ce jour au moins la reclamation des Cours suppleoit a 
celle des etats, quoiqu'imparfaitement." Remontrances de la Cour des Aides, 
February 18, 1771. See also the famous remonstrance of the same court issued 
in 1775. 

2 Arre'te du 30 Juillet, 1787. 

3 The last remonstrance of the Parlement of Paris is printed by Mortimer. 
Ternaux, Histoire de la Terreur, I, pp. 306, 307. See Pasquier's Memoirs 
(American edition), I, 70-74, and 98 ff. 

4 Recueil des loix constitutives des colonies angloises confederees sous la 
denomination d'Etats-Unis de l'Amerique septentrionale, traduit de l'anglois. 
A Philadelphie et se vend a Paris, chez Cellot et Jombert, 1778. Library of 
Penn. Hist. Soc. 

5 Adams wrote his " Defence " in answer to Turgot's strictures, which may be 
found in the latter's works. 

6 Observations sur le gouvernement et les loix des Etats-Unis de l'Amerique, 
1st ed., 1784. 



No. 3-] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 469 

Mazzei, 1 who is said to have been aided by Condorcet. The 
bills of rights prefacing a number of our early state constitu- 
tions are constantly referred to in the debates upon the Decla- 
ration of the Rights of Man, August, 1789. The experience 
of the United States may well have added somewhat to the 
precision and vigor of an already well developed movement 
towards constitutional reform ; more weight than this cannot, 
I think, be ascribed to foreign example. 2 

The French, long conscious of the abuses of their system 
of government, and anxious to insure their liberties by limit- 
ing the prerogatives of their monarch, turned their minds 
naturally and inevitably to a species of written guarantee which 
should give definiteness to the chief fundamental laws of the 
state. The very insistence placed upon the declaration of 
the rights of man showed that the people had in view a 
charter in the English sense of the word rather than an 
elaborately wrought out constitution, like that of 1791. 
" No one denies now," Mirabeau once remarked with charac- 
teristic insight, 3 " that the French nation was prepared for the 
revolution which has just taken place rather through a con- 
sciousness of its ills and the faults of its government than by 
the general advance of knowledge. Every one was conscious 
of what should be destroyed; no one knew what should be 
established." The proof of this is found in the pamphlets 
of the time, but especially in the great collection of cahiers. 

As was most natural, the determination of the king to sum- 
mon the Estates General called forth a great number of 
pamphlets, especially in the latter half of the year 1788. 
These corresponded in function to the modern newspaper, 
which very quickly developed from them. While they dealt 
very largely with the question of the number of representatives 

1 Recherches Historiques et Politiques sur les fitats-Unis de l'Amerique sep- 
tentrionale, par un Citoyen de Virginie. Paris, 1788, 4 vols. See Sabin., Bib. Am., 
No. 47,207. 

2 Mr. Rosenthal has collected a great deal upon this subject in his careful work, 
America and France: Influence of the United States on France in the 18th Century 
(1882). 

3 Twenty-third note to the court in the correspondence with Lamarck. 



470 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

and with the method of voting in the assembly, some took up 
the work which the Estates General had before it. That of 
Si6yes is well known, and its author occupied an authoritative 
position in the assembly from the first. A less-known pam- 
phlet, published anonymously, but attributed with good reason 
to Rabaut St. Etienne, the most radical perhaps of the more 
influential speakers in the assembly before June 20, is ana- 
lyzed in the Introduction to the Moniteur} This brochure, 
published a year before the Tennis Court oath, sets forth the 
necessity of establishing a constitution. 

So long as the changing and arbitrary form of your administra- 
tion continues to exist [the author urges], so long will the ministers 
to whom your interests are temporarily confided be in a position to 
overturn the established order, modify or abrogate the laws and 
regulations made by their predecessors, while all your efforts to 
correct the abuses and better your situation will be futile and with- 
out permanent results. 

In determining the principles of a good constitution, while 
the author speaks of those of Switzerland and of the United 
States, he evidently recognizes that England after all furnishes 
the most feasible model. The constitution ought, he holds, to 
provide for two houses of legislation, a separation of the powers 
of government, ministerial responsibility, security of person 
and property, liberty of the press, etc., — a complete program, 
extracted in a measure no doubt from Montesquieu. So far, 
however, as I have examined the pamphlets of the times, — 
and a considerable collection is available in the Library of the 
Pennsylvania Historical Society, — the one just described seems 
to be exceptional. As Sorel says : " The French were much 
more anxious for civil than for political liberty." We find a 
great deal more discussion of financial oppression and of the 
existing social and economic abuses than of a proposed political 
or constitutional re-organization. 

The same tendency is apparent in the cahiers. Still these 
indicate a very general if not practically universal desire that 

1 A la Nation Francoise, sur les Vices de son Gouvernement, sur la Necessite 
d'etablir une Constitution et sur la Composition des Etats-Generaux. Archives 
Parlementaires, vol. i, pp. 572—3. 



No. 3-] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 471 

the despotic government of the Bourbons should cease. To 
take an example at random from one of the cahiers of the 
clergy, we find, article 1, this statement: "The fundamental 
[constitutives] laws of the nation ought not to be based upon 
doubtful and obscure traditions, but established upon a solid 
foundation, to wit, justice and the good of the people." Noth- 
ing is to be done in the assembly of the Estates General, the 
cahier declares, " until the rights of the nation are solemnly 
recognized and determined. A charter containing these shall 
be drawn up, in which they shall be formally and irrevocably 
inscribed." x This is characteristically vague, and, taking the 
orders throughout, represents the average minimum demand. 
Every one seemed to feel that the desired civil rights and free- 
dom could only be secured by establishing so much of a consti- 
tution as would insure the periodic meetings of the Estates 
General. This participation of the nation in the exercise of 
legislative power would prevent oppression, if the rights of the 
individual were once defined, and solemnly and irrevocably 
reduced to writing. Such a course was not regarded as im- 
plying any radical innovations. In fact, in the case of some 
of the cahiers of the noblesse the desire appears to have been 
to secure their own special privileges, which they regarded as 
fundamental laws. These, if reduced to writing, were, it was 
argued, not so likely to be questioned in the future as they 
had been of recent years. Taine's assertion 2 that the nobility 
in general held with Montesquieu that France had a constitu- 
tion, is not, however, borne out by the cahiers? although there 
are some instances which give countenance to this view. 

The general desire for some security for the maintenance of 
the fundamental rights of person and property takes a more 
definite form in certain urban cahiers, for example in that of 
the se'ne'chausse'e of Lyons : 

Since arbitrary power has been the source of all the evils which 
afflict the state, our first desire is the establishment of a really 

1 Senechaussee de Mans, Archives Pari., Ill, 637. 

2 Cf. Sieves, Ancien Regime, p. 422. 

8 This is pointed out by Champion in his introduction to Sieves' pamphlet, ix, 



472 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. [Vol. X. 

national constitution, which shall define the rights of all and provide 
the laws to maintain them. Consequently our representatives shall 
request the Estates General to decree and His Majesty to sanction 
a strictly constitutional law, the chief aims of which shall be as fol- 
lows : [a list of fourteen articles are enumerated, concluding with 
the provision that] since in no society can any happiness be hoped 
for without a good constitution (une bonne constitution), the Province 
of the Lyonnais recommends its deputies to discuss no other sub- 
ject until the French constitution shall be fixed by the Estates 
General. 1 

Among the cahiers that of Paris intra muros forms a marked 
exception to the general vagueness. It was drawn up later 
than the rest, not being completed until after May 5, the day 
upon which the Estates General met. The committee appointed 
to draft the cahier included a number of distinguished men: 
Marmontel, Lacretelle, Bailly, Target, Camus and others. 2 
The result of their deliberations is the most complete scheme 
of a constitution which appeared before that drawn up in the 
National Assembly itself. The first division of the cahier is 
devoted to this subject, and the representatives of Paris "are 
expressly forbidden to consent to any subsidy or loan until the 
declaration of the rights of the nation shall have become a 
law, and the foundations of a constitution are agreed upon and 
assured." The draft of the constitution is preceded, like that 
actually decreed later in the National Assembly, by a declara- 
tion of rights, which the cahier claims should " constitute a 
national charter and form the basis of the French govern- 
ment." No other cahier, so far as I have observed, except 
that of the bailliage of Nemours, 3 contains so clear a statement 

1 Archives Pari., Ill, 608, 609. 

2 Stephens' French Revolution, vol. i, p. 50. 

8 The third estate of the bailliage of Nemours charges its deputies to de- 
mand that when the Estates General shall have recognized and set forth those 
natural and social rights of man and of the citizen, the king shall draw up a dec- 
laration which shall be registered by all the courts, published several times a year 
in all the churches, and inserted in all the books destined for the instruction of the 
earliest childhood. No one shall be admitted or appointed to any judicial, magis- 
terial or administrative office without having repeated this declaration from 
memory. A more elaborate draft of a declaration is furnished by Nemours than 
by Paris itself. 



No. 3.] THE TENNIS COURT OATH. 473 

of this characteristic idea that the declaration of rights is an 
essential element of the constitution. Not only was this 
suggestion accepted by the National Assembly, which, as is 
well known, formulated the " Declaration of the Rights of 
Man and the Citizen " before proceeding to the constitution 
itself, but the clauses themselves as they appear in this cahier 
of Paris are strikingly similar to those finally adopted by the 
assembly. The importance of the well-ordered constitutional 
provisions suggested in the cahier can best be estimated by 
their close approach to those of the constitution of 179 1. I 
quote a few instances of articles proposed by the Paris elec- 
toral assembly: 

In the French monarchy the legislative power belongs to the na- 
tion in conjunction with the king. The executive power belongs to 
the king alone. 

The Estates General shall be periodically convoked every three 
years, without, however, excluding extraordinary sessions. They 
shall never adjourn without indicating the day and place of their 
next session. 

Any one convicted of an attempt to prevent the assembling of the 
Estates General shall be declared a traitor to his country, guilty of 
the crime of lese-nation \_sic!~\. 

In the intervals between the sessions of the Estates General, only 
provisional regulations may be issued in execution of that which has 
been decreed in the preceding Estates General, nor can these regu- 
lations be made laws, except in the following Estates General. 

Many more examples might be given to illustrate the similarity 
between this sketch and the plan ultimately adopted. The 
cahier claims that 

the constitution which shall be drawn up in the present Estates 
General, according to the principles which have just been set forth, 
shall be the property of the nation, and may not be changed or 
modified except by the constituent power, that is to say, by the 
nation itself, or by its representatives elected ad hoc by the whole 
body of citizens for the single purpose of supplementing or perfect- 
ing this constitution. 

There was an attempt made during the week preceding the 
Tennis Court oath to induce the National Assembly, as it now 



474 POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY. 

called itself, to pass a decree in which the formation of a con- 
stitution was designated as one of the great objects to be 
attained. Mirabeau claimed that the king himself had recog- 
nized " the necessity of giving France a fixed method of gov- 
ernment," 1 and consequently regarded the laying of "the 
foundations of the wise and felicitous constitution " as the 
inevitable and obvious duty of the assembly. 2 Rabaut de St. 
Etienne, in a series of resolutions offered on the 1 5th of June, 
occupies the same position. 3 On the 17th of June the assem- 
bly finally defined its constitutional functions in a vaguer form 
as "the determination of the principles of national regenera- 
tion." 4 Thus, although the representatives of the third estate 
were chiefly occupied before June 20 with the questions as to 
the method of voting and the relation of their order to the other 
two orders, the great question of the constitution was not lost 
sight of. If the Tennis Court oath was the first official decla- 
ration of the purpose of the assembly, it was the inevitable 
outcome of preceding conditions, and was in fact only a 
re-statement of the resolution adopted by the assembly several 
days before (June 17). 

It would thus seem clear that the conviction of the necessity 
for France of a written constitution was not due to any sudden 
crisis, but was, on the contrary, the outcome of a long period 
of preparation, during which one essentially conservative influ- 
ence, at least, that of the superior courts, did much to insure 
the success of a movement with which they could, at bottom, 
have little sympathy. It is apparent, too, that relatively little 
weight should be ascribed to outside example, since the influ- 
ence of foreign experience sinks into insignificance, as it cus- 
tomarily does upon careful investigation, in comparison with 
the irresistible tendencies in France itself during the eight- 
eenth century towards a constitutional form of government. 

James Harvey Robinson. 
Columbia College. 

1 Histoire Parlementaire, vol. i, p. 445. 

2 Ibid., p. 453. 3 Ibid., p. 457. * Ibid., p. 472.